|Klaus Meine says he did not intend the song to have an overtly political agenda [MARC THEIS]|
Three months before the Berlin Wall fell, some of the biggest hard rock bands in the world, escorted by Soviet soldiers and KGB agents, took a boat ride down the Moskva River.
It was August 1989, and the bands had been invited to play to 120,000 rock fans at the Moscow Peace Festival, an enormous concert that would be broadcast internationally as part of Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbechev’s perestroika programme to open up the Soviet Union to the rest of the world.
Among the bands on board that night were The Scorpions, the German perm-and-leather hard-rockers who would go on to write Wind of Change, the unofficial anthem of the reunification of Germany.
As they cruised through the Soviet capital, lead singer, Klaus Meine, had a moment of inspiration that would forever bind his music to the momentous political events that unfolded over the coming months.
“We’re all in this boat going down the river to go for a barbecue in Gorky Park – Bon Jovi, Mötley Crüe, the MTV people and these Russian soldiers,” Meine says, taking a break from recording the band’s new album to talk to Al Jazeera.
“It was like there was the whole world in the boat, all talking the same language of music. That was when the inspiration came to me for Wind of Change.”
In the 18th century, the German Romantics coined the term zeitgeist – an idea or work of art that captured the “spirit of the time”. While some music critics have dismissed Wind of Change as insipid and complained that its lyrics are mawkish or nonsensical, few would dispute that it captured the zeitgeist of a special moment in German history.
Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the song remains inextricably linked to the earth-shaking events of November 9, 1989, when hundreds of thousands of East Berliners swarmed to checkpoints, demanding to be let through to the West.
The link between hard rock and the fall of communism is not immediately obvious. But Wind of Change is a song of its time. Meine was there, watched what was happening around him, and wrote about what he saw.
“The best music comes out when it is based on a true inspiration,” he says. “That definitely goes for Wind of Change. It wouldn’t be the same if I’d written it watching TV while the wall came down. It came out through the emotion that I lived through playing in Moscow and Leningrad. It came from the bottom of my heart.”
He says he did not write the song with any agenda other than producing music: “It’s not like I said ‘I’m going to write a political song’. We’re a rock band. What do I know? I’m not a politician. I don’t normally write political lyrics.”
But in the heady days of the late 1980s, politics infused every aspect of life. In 1988, The Scorpions were already pioneering a kind of musical “détente”, becoming the second western hard rock band to perform in the Soviet Union when they played in Leningrad.
Wind blowing stronger
By the time of the Moscow Peace Festival on August 12 and 13, 1989, the wind of change was blowing ever stronger. Gorbachev’s perestroika reforms were well under way, the East German opposition movement was beginning to publicly criticise the communist regime, and Hungary had relaxed its border with Austria, meaning many East Germans could escape to the West.
“When we played in Moscow, we saw the world changing in front of our eyes. We talked to many young fans and they said they’d never dreamt they’d be watching hard rock bands at their Olympic stadium,” Meine says.
|People celebrate on the Berlin Wall [GETTY]|
The political significance of the huge concert could hardly have passed the band by.
“We were absolutely conscious that we were making inroads through music because we’d grown up in the shadow of the Berlin Wall and also because our parents were part of the generation that went to war against Russia,” he says.
“We said, ‘Our parents came with tanks. We are coming with guitars. We are on a mission to make up for the past.’
When the wall fell three months later, Scorpions were playing at a hard rock club in Paris. Meine says it was a bittersweet moment as the significance of what had happened sunk in.
“My first thought when I saw the pictures of people dancing on top of the Wall was about how many human beings had lost their lives trying to make it from East to West because they wanted to live a free life. I thought about all those lives and I asked myself, ‘For what?'”
By then Wind of Change had been written, but it was not released until 1990 and did not become a hit until 1991. It went on to sell six million copies in Germany alone, making it one of the top-charting German singles of all time.
As time passed, the song’s legendary status only seemed to grow, with viewers of Germany’s biggest TV network voting it the “song of the century” in 2005.
Twenty years after the fall of the Wall, Meine says he hopes his song helps people to keep a connection to the past and inspires them to learn its lessons – both the hope and the warnings that are etched in human history.
“It’s a wonderful thing that a piece of music – not just one of our songs, but many pieces of music – can arouse those emotions in the audience that connect them to a historic event like the end of communism,” he says.
He acknowledges that there are still problems in what used to be East Germany, but dismisses those who look back on the old system with a sense of nostalgia, insisting a brighter future lies ahead.
“Twenty years is nothing in human history, but look how much has been achieved here,” he says. “Sometimes it’s easy to forget that.”